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What Is an Atlatl? How Is It Used? October 28, 2010

Posted by Wapello Warbler in History, Louisa County.
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At first glance, the picture above may look like a simple stick, but it is actually an atlatl (pronounced AT-l-at-l).

An atlatl is a Native American spear chucker than can add distance and velocity to a spear without sacrificing accuracy. Back in the days when David was using a sling to wing a softball-sized stone at Goliath, the folks living in southeastern Iowa were using these for hunting and possibly warfare.

To use one, you place the butt of your spear on the tongue of the atlatl (that’s the short little stub of branch). You grab the shaft of the atlatl and lay your index finger over the shaft of the spear. if you have a fancy atlatl like the one above, you can rest the spear in the little Y shaped twig at the other end, otherwise rest the spear on your knuckles. The next picture shows how it’s done.

Holding and atlatl

You throw the spear as you would without the atlatl except that, as your arm comes over your shoulder, you take your finger off the spear and snap your wrist. Finish with your hand pointing at the target.

If you want to add a little more pop to the atlatl split the end of the atlatl and place a leather thong across as shown below.

Atlatl with thong

My thanks to Kathy Dice, a naturalist with Louisa County’s Conservation Board, for teaching a dozen of us how to make and use spears and atlatls last Sunday. You can find out about upcoming LCCB events by visiting Naturally Louisa and subscribing to their newsletter.

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